As a transfer student from New College of Florida, senior Eliza Miller said she saw room for improvement in GW’s social scene. So when meet-up website Lunch With Strangers made its way to D.C. this summer, she jumped at the opportunity to bring it to campus.
Founded by Yale University junior Sam Sussman last spring, Lunch with Strangers randomly matches students interested in meeting new people on campus, based on availability and location preference. GW is only the second school in the nation to test the program, and about 100 students have tried it so far.
“There’s no student space, and it’s very hard to meet people,” Miller said, adding that at her old school, “I would sit outside with my homework and people would come up and talk to me. That doesn’t happen here.”
After she tried Lunch With Strangers while interning in the city, Miller contacted Sussman and asked him to launch it at GW. Sussman, who was also a summer intern in D.C., said he recognized an opportunity for the site to grow.
Kevin Jiang, the website’s developer and a junior at Yale, said the campus dining scene also grabbed their attention.
“What I found very interesting, very different about GW was that you guys don’t have a specific dining hall. So going out to eat is very different, and I imagine that makes it harder to meet people,” Jiang said.
Jiang and Sussman said they thought the Foggy Bottom Campus lacked a structured way to meet new people and make friends, and called the University’s iteration of Lunch With Strangers a social experiment.
One of the students who has tried the experiment, junior Zach Komes, said of the six people he was paired with, he was only able to meet with two. (The other four either ignored contact completely or canceled the lunch date.) But he said the two lunches were successful.
His first lunch was with none other than Miller herself, a fellow economics major.
“They somehow find a way to find people who are interested in similar topics. I got paired with two people that I really have common interests with,” Komes said. “So it’s really not a short-term lunch, it’s building long-term friendships.”
While it isn’t the first program that matches students randomly for a lunch date – GW Meets matched about 300 students in 2013, but disbanded after only a few months – Lunch with Strangers is the first to provide users with anonymity when they sign up for a match.
When Sussman founded the program last spring, it began with just a Google Doc, where he matched participants at random.
On the full website, users with a GW email address check off the boxes for the time slots available – half hour increments from noon to 3 p.m. – and choose where they’d like to eat. Meet-up locations include campus options like J Street and 2000 Pennsylvania Ave.
“GW students are so focused on their school work and so over-involved, I wanted to find a way for people to meet in a very casual setting, not have any commitments beyond that one meeting,” Miller said.
Several schools, including Columbia University, have contacted Sussman and Jiang with interest in hosting Lunch With Strangers. And while Jiang and Sussman are mulling over expanding to more schools, Miller has more of a vision for growing GW’s Lunch With Strangers program.
“I hope it will become a campus institution,” she said. “Like when you’re a freshman, someone tells you to sign up for Lunch With Strangers so you can meet really cool people that way.”